Intel Agencies Talk to Each Other…Sort Of

While the FBI and CIA have successfully knocked down most of the “wall” that was partly blamed for failure to detect and thwart the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, the agencies are still at odds over who has a “need to know” top-secret intelligence reports.

More than three years after 9/11 and a shakeup of the U.S. intelligence network, “a lot has to be worked out” over who in government should have access to sensitive intelligence reports on suspected terrorists, CIA Director Porter Goss told the Senate Intelligence Committee Wednesday.

The wall, a combination of laws and practices that sometimes blocked agencies from informing other agencies about intelligence on suspected terrorists, was often cited after 9/11 as a reason for the failure of the government to prevent the attack.

Goss said that John Negroponte, the new director of national intelligence, has assumed responsibility for working out smoother information-sharing among the U.S. intelligence agencies, including the CIA, FBI and Pentagon units.

FBI Director Robert Mueller told the committee that the Patriot Act, enacted shortly after 9/11 to give federal agencies more authority to deal with terrorist threats, has made a “tremendous difference” in improving information sharing among U.S. agencies.

He said that the FBI passed along to the CIA information it picked up in criminal investigations and the CIA has given the FBI information it picked up from overseas contacts, Mueller declared.

Since the barriers to information sharing have come down, there has been “increased cooperation” inside the U.S. intelligence community, Mueller said.

The new rules on information-sharing have “made a difference” in preventing future terrorist acts against the United States, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales testified.

The officials traveled to Capitol Hill to urge a permanent renewal of several provisions in the Patriot Act that are set to expire at the end of this year.

With only a few senators present at the hearing, Democrats expressed concerns the intelligence agencies could use their expanded authority to invade individual privacy.

The small attendance was in sharp contrast to the interest shown in the legislation in the aftermath of 9/11, and might have reflected the probability that the expiring provisions of the Patriot Act are likely to be kept in place with little change.

“The alternative is a return to a failed, outdated and illogical limit on national security investigations that tied our hands prior to the 9/11 attacks,” said Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., the committee chairman.

Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., pointed out that civil liberties groups are concerned that the FBI could violate individual rights by getting medical and library loan records.

But Gonzales said the government had not used its power to force any library to turn over a borrower’s records. However, Democrats said that librarians might regard any expression of interest by government agencies in personal library records as a form of pressure to produce the records voluntarily.